The Prof. Dumbledore Mystery Deepens

01/03/2003 at 11:46 AM EST

Sounds like a great publicity gimmick: Who will play Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies now that Richard Harris, who originated the role, has died?

As reported last week based on stories from reputable British news sources, Sir Ian McKellen, 63, who plays the wizard Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, was the likely candidate to don the high pointed cap in the next -- and third -- movie about J.K. Rowling's boy wizard, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," slated to begin shooting late next month.

(Harris, 72, died of Hodgkin's disease last October.)

Then, this week, a flurry of reports suggested that the hat may go to Irish-born actor Sir Michael Gambon, 62, most recently seen playing President Lyndon B. Johnson in the TV movie "Path to War."

According to, McKellen said no to the role, as did another "Lord of the Rings" alum, veteran horror actor Christopher Lee, 80.

But Harry Potter's studio, Warner Bros. (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner), has denied that either McKellen or Gambon will assume Harris's throne.

Frankly, at this rate, don't be surprised if next week Peter O'Toole is being mentioned for the role. Or Eddie Murphy.

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